Crossing Lines – How NOT to Run an Event

Not About You

Ruck - Dawn

A ruck is a very complex and interesting event, and involves far more than just hiking with a weighted pack. When done properly, the goal is to take a disparate group of individuals, and through hardships and often unpleasant tasks, bond them into a team.  As the leader of a ruck (often called Cadre), your job is to put the people through hell, and to bring them out the other side better. It is to teach lessons and leave participants with a sense of pride at their accomplishments and a new understanding of their own capabilities.  Recently, I heard from a friend who signed up for an event (Note: not a GORUCK event, which in my experience have always been run very professionally), and was left with a very different taste in her mouth.

This was not my first ruck. The events that I have participated in before were challenging and thought provoking. I usually left feeling empowered and humbled by my experiences and felt that I grew not only as an athlete but as a person. When I left this ruck however, I felt disgusted, disrespected, and demeaned. It felt more like a college hazing than physical training. In fact, if this activity were to have taken place at a college or in the military the event’s organizers could very well have been charged with sexual harassment.

Strong words indeed, and definitely the type of feedback that no event organizer wants to receive. Were they warranted? Here are a couple of activities at this all-women ruck, which was lead by three men.

One of the first exercises was to be in plank position and each person name an item that they’d buy at a sex shop. We went around the circle 3-4 times.

Another exercise was to hike up a steep trail to the Cadre at the top, reach in a bag of condoms and the # on the wrapper was the # of burpees we had to do. Then we had to blow up the condoms and hike back down the trail with a blown up condom in our mouths…

And all while we were doing various exercises the Cadres kept saying that they were going to give it to us long and hard.

Inappropriate much?  Now, I’m not the most politically correct guy in the room on most days, and I’ve certainly been known to joke around with double entendres and sexual innuendos on occasion; normally with close personal friends.  There’s a world of difference, in my opinion, between that kind of interplay and this directed at least partly at strangers from someone in a position of power.

My goal in writing this isn’t to call out or indict the individuals involved; apologies were tendered and accepted.  But I won’t condone this type of behavior and I think it can serve as a lesson in event planning gone bad.

GORUCK (the original and gold standard on these events) has many sayings associated with their events. One of my favorites is “It’s not about you”. This applies to the individuals doing a challenge, and is a reminder that it’s all about the team. If someone quits or fails, the whole team is partly to blame. “It’s not about you” applies double for the cadre.  They don’t have you making sugar cookies or carrying really heavy crap around for their own amusement (at least, not entirely); everything works towards a purpose.

Not About You

In planning an event like this, you MUST keep in mind that it’s not about you.  Your job is to provide an experience to those who come out to the event; one that they’ll remember, that encourages them to push beyond their limits, to bond as a team, and to leave with that sense of accomplishment.  The activities need to be carefully planned, as do the messages you want people to take from the event.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or engage in silliness; one of my most memorable experiences in a ruck was being lead blindfolded with a soother in my mouth (pic below) to prevent us from talking. You do, however, need to ensure that your audience would also find it funny.  If some or many of them are strangers or people you don’t know very well, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.  If it’s likely to come off to some as offensive, ditch the idea and keep brainstorming.  You can do better than that.  If you can’t, leave the job to the professionals – GORUCK, SISU, & the Weeple Army for instance.

Ruck - Soother & Blindfold

For the event described, the bottom line is “I thought about what I would have felt like if my daughter had done this event. I would be disgusted. No woman should ever be subjected to such misogynistic behavior.”  Guys, if you’d be uncomfortable if your wife, daughter, or mom was taking part, or if you’d find yourself in a meeting with human resources if you tried it at work, don’t do it.

Rucks should be inclusive and empowering to the people taking part. Clearly this one missed the mark.  Hopefully those affected will try another event and find out how they’re supposed to work.

*Note that none of the pictures used were from the event in question, but were from previous rucks I had taken part in personally*

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Chris Cow

Chris is a research scientist for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, but on weekends he is an avid runner, endurance athlete and OCR junkie. He runs mostly with his wife, Anne. He is a 45 year old father of two gorgeous teenage daughters, and wants to help them adopt a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
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  1. WOW!

    If I was a woman and after that first comment, I think I would have either walked off and made sure to let everyone know to blacklist that event or given them a mouthful and made sure to let everyone to blacklist the even and then walk off.


  2. I was in a sorority back in the early 70’s…..smacks of hazing….
    “…When done properly, the goal is to take a disparate group of individuals, and through hardships and often unpleasant tasks, bond them into a team. As the leader of a ruck (often called Cadre), your job is to put the people through hell, and to bring them out the other side better….”

    The type of activities described would have worked at a drunken Greek party full of college kids….and probably would have even been considered fun and funny. But totally inappropriate for an activity billed as a self-worth and team building activity.

    From what I have read in this article, there were plenty of unpleasant tasks….but nothing says to me that in anyway it promoted team bonding or helped make anyone a stronger, better person by facing their fears, other than being humiliated.

    Sounds like someone’s first attempt at an activity like this….

  3. In the Navy we have different team building events like Battle Stations in Bootcamp, Hell Week for the Seals, Induction Season for new Chiefs Petty Officers and Wog Day for Crossing the Line Ceremony. Each of these events focus on working together and building cohesion and trust as well as educating participants on solving problems and thinking outside the box. In addition they challenge you both physically, mentally and emotionally. When I personally heard of the event I was angry and appalled at what took place. This event did not have a positive objective and focus. What is further troubling is there were wives, girlfriends, daughters and sisters participating in the event. I would not want anyone I know and care about subjected to such antics under the guise of a legitimate event. Unfortunately I’ll have to bare with that. Pushing rashness aside… I pray the coordinators of this event take a look at the guide books and develope a better model for future events. Somehow the Core Values and principals were lost on this event.

  4. 1. I’m very disappointed. I’m disappointed that an issue that was easily, and rightfully addressed about sexual harrassment was brought up and apologized for (hey, someone was offended, she should say something). The next event surely will not be the same. But it didn’t end there. An apology wasn’t good enough? Instead someone thought to bring in a third party. A third party who will write a scathing review of the event leaving out details that put it all into perspective. For what purpose?
    2. Chris is right anyway. He hit the nail on the head.
    “Now, I’m not the most politically correct guy… I’ve certainly been known to joke around with double entendres and sexual innuendos on occasion; normally with close personal friends.”

    Sooooo, basically it’s OKAY as long as it’s among friends? Yep, we agree.

    “This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or engage in silliness… You do, however, need to ensure that your audience would also find it funny.”

    Good points Chris… and yet he so carelessly left out the fact that this was a FREE private event… among close friends. Few of us were outsiders, myself included.

    3. And connecting Point 1 with Point 2: This was an intimate event of close friends in a close knit community. These people are friends with everyone else. This isn’t someone writing about an event that can be kept private as Chris claims, “but (I) see no reason to drag their names through the mud.” Did he (and the person who approved of this piece) really think, in this small group of friends, they weren’t dragging someone’s name through the mud? And to make it worse, did he think he wasn’t being malicious by posting this article into every group that he shares with the people involved thinking he’s still keeping their names private? This isn’t an article about John Doe from Kentucky… this was written and posted in places where people will know exactly who they are.

    Epic fail of being responsible adults among friends.

    By the way, I’ve been to baby showers that play games worse than what we had to “endure”. And to put this into perspective, we hiked with a log, two tires and a 15lb ball. The event was 6 hours. All the things listed in this article was no more than 30 minutes of those 6 hours. This specifically was not called a “ruck”. And in no way was it ever publicized to be connected to anyone else.

    1. It was presented as a “training ruck” for GORUCK events. The organizers invited many outside their close circle; people who were effectively strangers. Even in a group of close friends, it’s not that difficult to offend someone when such lines are crossed.

      This clearly happened in this case. Yes, only 1 of 19 women who participated publicly complained. Several people have implied that this means 18/19 were ok with it; though I’m pretty doubtful on this point – most people won’t come forward with negative feedback, particularly when they see the person that did being publicly bashed and blamed on the event page for feeling offended. Regardless, even if it was only 1/19; that’s one too many.

      Objectively, these activities were clearly offensive and demeaning, and it’s difficult to imagine any context in which they’d be acceptable.

      I still have no wish to publicly shame the organizers or drag them through the mud; it is true that many in a small online community now know exactly who this was because of numerous posts by those defending the event. Be aware that this article has gone far beyond that small community, and many elsewhere have demanded more information because they’re out for proverbial blood on this. I have refused, because it’s not and never was important to the point of the article.

  5. As someone who has served in the military it bothers me that people who do these “rucks” or whatever you call them use terminology that is used in the military. Like “cadre,” “sugar cookies,” and many other expressions after they do the “ruck.” I don’t know why. Maybe because I don’t feel that they have the right to without enlisting. Doing a race and mimicking one small part of basic training, or whatever doesn’t make you a vet… I guess. I can’t really articulate it. I wonder if anyone else feels that way. I know this isn’t what the story is about…Maybe somebody should write a piece about that though…

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